Video: In Australian Town Named 'White Man In A Hole,' 1500 People Live Underground


If someone were to drive through Coober Pedy, South Australia, it wouldn’t seem like there is much of anything in the town because only 5 percent of it is above ground.

“People drive in and go, ‘Where is the place? I don’t understand,'” underground resident Andy Sheils told Great Big Story.

Coober Pedy comes from the Aboriginal term kupa-piti that means “white man in a hole.”

Ninety-five percent of the town is underground because of the high temperatures “upstairs.”

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“At the moment, upstairs it is about 122 degrees Fahrenheit. Down here we’re sitting on about 71, 72 degrees,” Sheils said. “No air conditioner necessary.”

The nearest city, Adelaide, is about a day’s drive from Coober Pedy.

Sheils estimated that there are 1,000 underground dwellings with at least 1,500 people living underground.

There are underground churches, motels, workshops and even homes with multiple bedrooms.

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“You name it underground, we’ve pretty well got it,” Sheils said.

He had originally bought his “dugout” as a two bedroom, but he has since expanded it.

“Some of this I blasted out when I could get away with it,” he said pointing to one of his rooms with a desk in it. “The cops don’t like us blasting in town.”

Although they don’t “blast” in new rooms anymore, it used to be pretty easy to add on to their homes.

“Back in the old days, if somebody was gonna have a baby, we’d rock around there with a couple of compressors on the weekend and some jackhammers, and a couple of cartons of beer, and by the Sunday night, we’d dug out a room, cemented the floor, and mired it up,” Sheils recounted. “And, um, there’s your new baby’s room, honey.”

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According to Coober Pedy’s website, the town is actually the “opal capital of the world.” Their main industries are opal mining, tourism, primary production and support services.

Despite being far away from most anything else, Sheils said that the people who live in Coober Pedy still enjoy being there.

“I don’t know why, but we just love the place to bits.”

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Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. A University of Oregon graduate, Erin has conducted research in data journalism and contributed to various publications as a writer and editor.
Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. She grew up in San Diego, California, proceeding to attend the University of Oregon and graduate with honors holding a degree in journalism. During her time in Oregon, Erin was an associate editor for Ethos Magazine and a freelance writer for Eugene Magazine. She has conducted research in data journalism, which has been published in the book “Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future.” Erin is an avid runner with a heart for encouraging young girls and has served as a coach for the organization Girls on the Run. As a writer and editor, Erin strives to promote social dialogue and tell the story of those around her.
Tucson, Arizona
Graduated with Honors
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, University of Oregon
Books Written
Contributor for Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future
Prescott, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English, French
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Health, Entertainment, Faith


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